In his book, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters, Jon Acuff suggests that a big part of getting our priorities right is being willing to disappoint the right people.” What he means is that there are some circumstances in which you have to disappoint someone. You can’t be in two places at once, you can’t spend limited funds on two or three purchases, you can’t spend the same hour accomplishing several different tasks which all take an hour to do. Acuff says that you have to be willing to disappoint the right people. The example that he uses to illustrate the point would seem like a no-brainer to most of us. Acuff had promised some friends that he would run/bike/swim a sort of mini-triathlon with them. Then, a few days before the event, he realized that if he spent that Saturday with his friends running and swimming, he wouldn’t see his wife and young children for four weekends in a row since he had three weekends of business trips scheduled after the mini-triathlon weekend. He had a choice. He could disappoint his friends by bailing on the mini-triathlon at the last minute, or he could disappoint his wife and children. Which do you think he chose? Correct – he disappointed his friends and spent the time with his family. He makes the obligatory comment that he should have checked his calendar more carefully before agreeing to the mini-triathlon, and then tells us that it was much better to disappoint his friends and not show up at the race than to disappoint his family by choosing to spend another Saturday away from them when he was already going to be gone quite a bit. I think we’d all agree that makes good sense. It doesn’t take much reflection to realize which choice was the correct one. But maybe there are quite a few of us who need that reminder in our over-scheduled lives.
I like Acuff’s turn of phrase, “disappoint the right people.” It recognizes that we can’t please everyone, that there will be cases in which we disappoint people, even if we do carefully check our calendars. I found myself thinking that I would have appreciated a more challenging dilemma than the one Acuff described. What if you have to choose between attending a close friend’s funeral and a niece’s graduation from college? What if you have to choose between your daughter’s sixteenth birthday party and an important work meeting in another city that might advance your career? Maybe Acuff stayed away from dilemmas like that because he wanted to start with something that most people would think was pretty clear.
However, we are going to run into situations where the choices aren’t so clear. It’s then that we need to think hard about what relationships matter the most and what priorities are most significant. That line of thought made me think, “When we have the choice of disappointing God or disappointing other people, what choice do we make? What choice should we make?” The first instinct of the religious person is to think that in any choice between God and other people, the right choice is always to disappoint other people, not God. How could it ever be right to disappoint God?
Shouldn’t keeping our commitments to God take priority over everything else? Acuff never discusses this dilemma, even though he is probably qualified since his first book is Stuff Christians Like. As I thought about this, though, I realized that it was the wrong question. Although the first commandment (“I am the LORD your God; you shall have no other gods before me” – or Jesus’ version, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”) does mean that God should be first in our lives, I’m not sure that the language of “disappoint” is the best way to talk about those times when we don’t do what God wants us to do. Do we “disappoint” God? “Disappoint” means “fail to fulfill the hopes or expectations of (someone).” God wants us to draw closer to him. God wants our love for God and other people to deepen. God wants us to help people in need and enjoy all the good gifts he has given us. If we fail to do that, maybe we do “disappoint” God. But as I reflected on this, I realized that “disappoint” might not be the right word. This becomes clearer when we consider the second definition of disappoint: “prevent (hopes or expectations) from being realized.” Can we really prevent the hopes or expectations of God from being realized? Think about that for a minute. Maybe in the short run we can. People do all sorts of things that clearly are against God’s will. But in the long run, we cannot frustrate God’s dream for the world. When we, in our brokenness, harm others or reject God, God is grieved, but God also knows the way things will turn out. Ultimately, God’s hopes and expectations are fulfilled, so I don’t think God suffers from “disappointment.”
Does God desire that we choose wisely instead of foolishly? Of course. But I don’t think God spends a lot of time being disappointed with us. As Wayne Jacobsen once said (something like this, I don’t have the exact quote), “When we do something sinful or foolish and reject God’s invitation to recognize his love for us for the 87th time, God doesn’t say, ‘I can’t believe this person can’t get it right even after 87 times!’ Instead, God looks toward the future and says, ‘Only 17 more times to go, and they’ll get it!’” Of course, it’s better for us and better for those around us if we “get it” more quickly. But God will keep inviting us until we do, no matter how disappointed we might be with ourselves. Let’s listen for that invitation.